Leah Williamson attended the last 2017 UEFA Women’s Euro in the Netherlands as an England spectator. Now she may go on to attend the upcoming home-based 2022 UEFA Women’s Euro as an England captain. Whether or not this occurs, it has been a remarkable rise for the girl from North London. For those who have followed her for years though, this is hardly surprising.
Sarina Wiegman, the new England manager, entered her managerial position earlier this month stating that she was looking to make several changes. The captaincy could be one of those changes.
Steph Houghton, who has been captain since 2014, was supposed to continue her role in the two matches disputed over the last international window. However, she returned home after picking up an injury in training the day before the first fixture against Northern Macedonia.
The new manager then decided to give the captaincy to Leah Williamson. Wiegman kept her in the position for the subsequent Luxembourg European qualifying match as well.
Williamson had been captain of sides before, leading Arsenal on a number of occasions as well as the England U-17 women’s team at the 2013 UEFA Euros. However, getting the arm band for a senior national side is a task unlike any other captaincy, a heavy burden for anyone, let alone a 24-year old who has been in the squad for three years and only had 20 caps.
To make the Northern Macedonia and Luxembourg qualifying matches even more difficult for Williamson, manager Wiegman starter her in midfield. While she normally plays as a centre-back, she has been asked at times to play in the number six position for her club. It is not her most familiar position though.
One would not have known that watching her in both matches. Williamson showed great intelligence both on and off the ball and for the majority of both games looked like England’s conductor. She used her well known passing vision to distribute the ball extremely well. Her first defence splitting assist to Ella Toone in the Northern Macedonia game was a prime example of her quality.
Williamson has also always been known for her work rate, which she demonstrated in both games by playing tirelessly. More important, the way she played as a defensive midfielder had the proper mixture of calm, composure, needed energy when appropriate and vocal leadership. All these are attributes that the number six position requires. They are also attributes that make for an excellent captain.
Speaking of her decision to pick the young Englishwoman after the first Northern Macedonia match, Wiegman stated: “She is very good in the team, she is a team player in how she behaves and how she relates to other players was very good. I think on the pitch she did in training a very good job. She is so calm, so I thought she would be a very good captain when Steph had to leave.”
These were sentiments echoed by Williamson’s England teammate Demi Stokes who when describing her stated: “Serena could have picked anyone in the squad as we are all leaders in our own right. What Leah brings is she is very cool, she is very calm and that is important in the team.
“I think most importantly she is just Leah and she just brings herself. That is what we want in this team, it is to bring yourself, and that is what we want in this time, it is to bring yourself, to be comfortable. It is about just doing that even though you do have the captain armband.”
For followers of Williamson, this was the most impressive part about her recent time as captain. While she played like a captain and she acted like a captain, she was able to accomplish this while remaining unchanged, while remaining “just Leah”.
Known to be a mixture of big personality while also being soft-spoken, a person with an abundance of energy who also brings calmness, a team player who also can shine individual and most importantly a mixture of a person who is enthusiastic in her attitude to football but also honest in her demeanour and candour, the reality is that Williamson has always been a good fit for captaincy.
She expects the best of herself but not for herself. This was shown when she described her reaction to being given the news about getting the armband. Williamson stated she laughed when told because she thought she was in trouble. However, she went on to explain that this wasn’t something that she sought or something that has ever been on her agenda.
That is because Williamson leads without having to try. She won back to back player of the match awards for her performances against Northern Macedonia and Luxembourg, showing the quality of her play in an unfamiliar position. However, when awarded the first player of the match she accepted it and proceeded to give it to Rachel Daly on behalf of the team. Daly had just recently lost her father.
The ease with which Williamson did this where she made the announcement, then called Daly on the phone who was in the kit room at the time, asked her to over and then gave her the award shows the simple class that Williamson possesses.
This class was also demonstrated when she was asked about how it felt to lead the team. Williamson replied “Obviously this is probably the biggest honour in football, especially I have told you a million times how much I love playing for my country, how much I am proud to be English.
“So it was very special. I am very happy that the fans were able to be here and that my family was able to be here as well because this is probably just as important for them as it is for me. It has been a great past day and leading the team out will probably be the biggest honour of my life.”
Whether or not she keeps the armband is up to Wiegman. However, when it comes to how her future with England it does not really matter if remains captain. No one would doubt that Williamson will keep acting with the same energy and calmness that she has always displayed either way. Captain or not, England know that they have a tireless skilled passionate player they have always been able to count on, “just Leah.”
Photo: Lynne Cameron